NVIDIA's booth appeared to a relatively unsurprising affair; there been very few NVIDIA products that haven't already been seen as the likes of GeForce3 have been around for some months now. Obviously, with the rumours (and now evidence) increasing and NVIDIA's operating timescales we can gather they are gearing up for some new 3D announcements - sadly, ECTS was not the place they were due to be announced.

Obviously NVIDIA were showing of GeForce3's and Quadro DCC's as well as their notebook products, including Quadro 2 Go. They had a large screen playing the Black And White extra islands add-on, as well as demonstrations of the 'real time' rendering of Final Fantasy.

However, on one of my revisits to the NVIDIA booth I was slightly knocked back, for the very familiar and friendly face of Andrew Humber, former 3dfx European PR manager, was wearing an NVIDIA shirt!

Not long after 3dfx’s demise NVIDIA sought the services of 3dfx’s European Product Marketing Manager, Luciano Alibrandi and Luciano decided to join NVIDIA soon after the 3dfx staff left, and is now NVIDIA’s European Technical Marketing Manager. Andrew, having worked for Hutichinson 3G and getting bored with the interminable wait third generation mobile phones, was recently contacted by Luciano saying that a PR opportunity had opened at NVIDIA, who asked if he’d like to take it. He would, and he did and after only four weeks working with NVIDIA he was already at the deep end with them at ECTS!

Although pushed for time Andrew managed to find me the space to take me into the press room for a quick demonstration of nForce. NVIDIA had a sample production level board from MSI on hand to show, and a running board for demonstration. I had a nice demonstration of the on board Dolby Digital, using all the surround channels, as well as an amusing demo of 'Blobby' a rather entertaining dancing blob that's animated to music, and can be disassembled at will! Andrew also showed Max Payne in operation using the integrated video of nForce alone; the remarkable thing here is the game was running relatively well at 1600x1200 on the integrated video! Although I didn't see the rest of the game settings it was an impressive sight none the less.

One thing that occurred to me after seeing nForce in action, and a later conversation with Intel is how nVIDIA has been able to shake up the chipset market like this, and as far as I can see it all relates to process sizes. The nForce platform is based on the current .15 micron process that the likes GeForce 3 uses; obviously the smaller the die size the greater the functional content can be included - Intel are not able to achieve such a feat with their motherboard chipsets. Intel’s practices are all about vast volumes, of both chipsets and CPU’s; because the companies primary focus is on their CPU business the CPU’s will generally tend to utilise the maximum production capacity of their latest process (currently Intel is shifting from the .18um platform to .13um for Pentium 4) – this leaves little capacity for the chipsets. For this reason the chipset side of Intel will remain at best on the same process, but mostly one process behind that used for their high end CPU’s; this in turn limits the functionality and performance that can be attained. Presumably the rest of the chipset market has been content to compete with Intel at this level without feeling the need to really push the bar for performance and features, and hence pushing into ever-newer silicon process sizes – up until nVIDIA stepped in. At the moment nForce is in a relatively, in comparison to some of Intel’s chipsets, low volume market because it only supports AMD and they have few OEM deals; if/when NVIDIA secure a P4 license it could put them in a much bigger volume arena and for a fab-less company such as NVIDIA its going to be interesting to see how they juggle their fab availability to maintain their competitive edge.

Well, that was about it from NVIDIA – it certainly was good to see Andrew at ECTS again, albeit under the banner of a different 3D vendor, hopefully this move will do B3D’s relationship with NVIDIA a lot of good. I think its fairly safe to say that NVIDIA will have something new for us soon…